Wigeon: A Sailing Canoe

Editors Note: The other day I received an email from Charles Campbell, and when I opened it I couldn’t believe my eyes. Attached were three pictures of one of the most beautiful sailing canoes that I had seen. The savvy reader may remember my remark in my FREE!ship Tutorial when I had stated: I can imagine a future where when around the campfire, our thoughts and discussions go back to the classic designs of the late 1800s and early 1900s carrying us away to a time when sailing canoes dominated the scenery with their graceful sails and flowing lines. And if we’re lucky, I can imagine a future where sailing canoes once again grace many lakes, ponds, and rivers where I like to paddle. Well, before I get carried away, I’ll just say you can read more about his thoughts and canoe below. Inspiring.

I came across your Notus tutorial while starting to play around with FreeShip–which, in turn, I found referenced on Dan Miller’s site (Dragonfly) (Editors Note: If you haven’t been to Dan’s site, you should visit, because it is the best resource for sailing canoes on the net). I noticed your remark about wanting to see sailing canoes back on the water and since I more or less have the same feelings about them I thought you might be interested in taking a look at the one I recently launched.

I got interested in sailing canoes from years of sailing an old Sportspal with a sailing rig. The relative inefficiency of that rig led me to want something more interesting and after some experimenting I realized the only way I would get it would be to build my own. At the time I had no idea about how to go about it except that I’d heard somewhere of using wood strips to build a boat. By chance I found a copy of Gil Gilpatrick’s book which lead me to read a couple more and get started. Three canoes later, I think I’ve come pretty close to what I’ve been looking for (the first two canoes are for paddle).

The gross specs are:

  • LOA: 15′ 6″
  • Beam (max): 39″
  • Depth: 12″ (at midstation)
  • Sail: 49 sq. ft.
  • Mast ht.: 15′ 6″
  • Weight: ?

I haven’t weighed it yet but since I can lift it well enough to put on and off the trailer, it’s got to be less than 80lbs. I’d have trouble with more than that. I would have been satisfied as long as it hadn’t gone over 85 lbs.

I was looking for something not too sporty–I really don’t want to put up with a sliding seat or hanging way over the side just to keep it upright (I’m just not that limber anymore)–but I don’t mind a little hiking out. Optimizations, such as they are, are all intended for recreational sailing in the capricious summer breezes of the small lakes and ponds I go to rather than choices one might make for racing. Because I launched it late in the season, I’ve only had 12 hours in it but they covered the complete spectrum of conditions I’d ever care to take it out in–and some I wouldn’t (it was gusting stronger than it looked when I shoved off). On that basis, I don’t think I could have come closer to target if I’d actually known what I was doing (my understanding of naval architechture is “limited”, to put it mildly).

There are three snapshots. One is of the canoe set up on the beach after a lovely three hour cruise. The other two are included to give a better perspective of the hull. The side deck is built up to support sitting on for hiking out. You can just see the leeboard on the other side of the boat. This is a temporary arrangement for the fin until I get a daggerboard trunk fitted for it. I hope to have that ready by the time the water thaws out and warms up. If this inspires any questions, I’m open to discussion. This canoe is a joy to sail–last Fall was just a teaser.

Paint Job

The paint job is due entirely to the quality of the paint–I simply brushed it on (2 coats) with disposable foam brushes. The paint is Interlux Toplac Ivory. I found it to be very forgiving of my sloppy technique. It pretty much levels itself. It’s not a perfect job but it’s a lot more practical than spraying. The pictures I have don’t do the boat justice–the reason being that they don’t capture the nice figure in the wide cedar boards I used in the decks.

Designing a Sailing Canoe

The canoe is my own design–sort of. The offsets I used for planking it are my design but it got modified so much along the way, some of which was by natural circumstance rather than by my doing, that it doesn’t match those offsets anymore. That’s a (tedious) story in itself. I call the design a Wigeon 15S. The 15 reflects its length and the ‘S’ indicates modifications for sailing. It’s a big brother to, and derived from, my first canoe, a “Wigeon 13” (which, in turn, was derived from Gil Gilpatrick’s 16ft “Laker”). At least half the fun is in designing my own canoes and seeing how they turn out. I suspect the fun I get from this has a lot to do with knowing zip about boat design. If I knew what I was doing, it probably wouldn’t be as interesting.

About the Canoe’s Mast

The mast, very much in the method of the canoe, is built from wood strips. In this case cheap spruce from the local lumber yard. I reinforced it with graphite tape which stiffened it considerably. It’s hollow and weighed only 7 lbs. before I added the hardware. Complete, it’s now up to 10 lbs., the additional weight coming almost entirely from the stainless sail track. It’s very easy to step unassisted. Because the graphite is a rather unsightly black, I painted the mast with the same paint I used on the hull. Not knowing any engineering, and not having plans, I wasn’t sure if the mast would hold up without stays (hence the graphite reinforcement). So far, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. It’s flexible but hardly bends under the worst I’ve taken it out in.

Leeboard Arrangement

The leeboard works very well–excellent, in fact. Because of previous experience, I decided this time around to use a true airfoil section for both the fin and rudder. Now that I’ve had a chance to see how it compares, I strongly recommend the airfoil approach rather than using a flat plate. I can’t quantify the difference but it certainly is a big improvement over the old Sportspal–which, to their credit, had finely shaped leeboards but not a good shape to resist stall. Thin flat plate was even worse, in my view, particularly for the rudder. Gougeon Brothers, Inc. makes available a free set of short articles on building rudder blades and centerboards that you can probably pick up at any WEST SYSTEM dealer (catalog no. 000-448). This is basically what I used for building the fin and rudder. I’m building the daggerboard trunk to fit the leeboard/fin as is.

Sail Ideas for Those that Want to Use Their Current Canoe

I sure hope your project to get a dedicated sailing canoe works out. For me it’s the best form of flatwater zen. If you’re looking for a sailing rig to retrofit to the Freedom, the ACA one-design rig may be of interest. I don’t know if you’re already familiar with it. If not, check out this site: ACA Rig. It might be just the right size and type for a Freedom. I recall that someone, when asked by Newfound Woodworks to design a sail for the Redbird, decided after some thought to recommend the ACA rig since he didn’t think he could do significantly better for that canoe. The Redbird is almost the same size as the Freedom. In my case, I wanted something that wasn’t yet another lateen rig–just for the sake of having something different from what I’d already used so much.

I have a lot to learn but if I have something worth passing on, I’m happy to do so–especially as I get experience in this canoe. We need more recreational sailing canoes around. They seem to have gotten lost by the wayside when racing took over the scene back in the 19th century. And from what I can see, the current racing classes are too restrictive in their class rules to be of general interest for someone who wants a recreational canoe dedicated to sailing. If we could just open the door a bit…

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One comment

  • I am interested in deisigne/ build of a sail for my fg canoe, being 66’5” tall , I need a sail & rig that will allow me to come about without minimal ducking, any ideas are welcome.
    What is the calculation for knowing what size sail for any given canoe ??
    Sincerely, Denis

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